Saturday, May 15, 2010

Taksi Driver

There are few things more interesting than getting in a taxi in a strange city with a driver who does not speak a word of English and who seemed genuinely confused when the doorman at our Istanbul hotel told him our destination was the cruise ship port. No, he didn't SEEM genuinely confused; he WAS. His conversation with the doorman lasted a good five minutes, another taxi driver joined, the doorman went inside and came back with more information, and finally our driver took off.

Since he still seemed somewhat bewildered by everything he had heard, we were happy that we had a few hours to spare before the ship left port. We were not so happy that there were no seat belts in the back. Or to be precise, there were seat belts but no buckles. After a few minutes of tailgating, slamming on brakes, and swerving between lanes, both LK and I looked lovingly into one another's eyes. We both had figured out it was the best way not to look at what the driver was doing in the traffic.

Along the way, our taxi (actually, it's "taksi" in Turkey) pulled into a couple of service stations; the driver yelled something out the window and listened as people yelled back. LK assumed he was asking for directions; I wondered if he was checking on the football scores. Either way, we figured we couldn't be too much off course because we were driving next to the harbor, which is all beautiful parkland here in Istanbul.

Finally we spotted our boat off in the distance. It was on the other side of the Bosphorus and we had to cross a bridge to get over there. At which point LK and I began to recognize some landmarks since we had stayed in that area a few years ago. It didn't help us figure out how to get through the maze of streets to the ship, but at least we had a sense of where we could go for a good lunch.

I am not sure our driver had a sense of either. At one point, when it seemed we were pretty close to the ship, he turned right only to slam on his brakes when he saw it was not where he wanted to be. He then did what any taxi driver the world over would do - he chose to ignore the law because obviously they do not apply to you if you are working. He did a K-turn in the street, nearly knocking over a bicyclist and forcing cars into the wrong lanes to avoid hitting him.

Did I mention we weren't wearing seatbelts?

About two streets further down he pulled to the side of the road in the middle of the block, yelled out at someone who yelled back, and then put the car in reverse. He nearly knocked over a motorcyclist, and the poor guy who was dragging a cart probably decided just to throw his underpants away when he got home.

We then drove down a street that was pretty obviously a cul-de-sac. Our driver yelled out to someone, who pointed to where we had just been before we backed up and gestured to go ahead and then turn right. Without knowing Turkish, I understood that. Our driver, perhaps because he did know Turkish, required that it be repeated a few times. At which point, of course, he started to back up towards a couple of pedestrians. But the guy who was giving him directions put his hand up and pointed out (literally) that we had pulled into a parking lot and all he had to was go forward through the lot and exit on the other side.

And from there it was short work to get to the ship. Among the clues -- there was a massive sign reading PORT with an arrow pointing right. I should point out that as I understand it, this was a rather uneventful taxi ride for Istanbul. And to be fair, it was nothing compared to the rides we had been on in India and Egypt.

This morning we are anchored off of Mitilini, the capital of the Greek island of Lesbos. Yes, this is where the name originated, but I don't know if the current residents choose to call themselves Lesbians. One of the things LK and I plan to do is find out whether they prefer that or other possibilities such as Lesbites, Lesbers, Lessies, Lesbosiders or Leswegians. Or perhaps just plain Lesbo People. We will let you know.

POSTSCRIPT: Our Internet wasn't available when I finished this post, and we have now visited Lesbos. I still cannot tell you what the people call themselves, but I can tell you it is not a particularly good idea to ask your waitress if she considers herself a lesbian.

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